In 1883, shipping magnate George Nipper built his magnificent dream, then known as The Grand Hotel. It was designed by famous architect Charles Webb, and was soon recognised as the most stylish and luxurious accommodation in Melbourne.
The Honourable James Munro acquired the property in 1886. In association with the Honourable James Balfour MLC, Munro embarked on a massive expansion project that doubled the size of the hotel and saw the addition of the Grand Ballroom, the Grand Staircase, and twin cupola-capped towers. Visitors to the towers enjoyed views over Williamstown, the You Yangs, Mount Macedon, and the Dandenong Ranges. The original 200 rooms grew to 360, and The Grand Hotel boasted the latest amenities and five star conveniences: hot and cold water, electric lights, electric bells, and elevators.
At this time, the Temperance Party’s teetotal ideals had achieved a considerable following. The Honourable James Munro is famous for his flamboyant gesture of setting alight the hotel liquor license with the statement: “Well, gentlemen, this is what I think of the license”. And so the property became known as The Grand Coffee Palace.
This change did not prove successful, however. Just 10 years later, in 1897, the liquor license was reinstated, and the name The Grand Hotel was restored.
With its close proximity to Parliament House and Melbourne’s government offices, The Grand Hotel rapidly became associated with politics and politicians. So convenient was this relationship that in February and March 1898, the Drafting Committee for the Federal Constitution worked out the document’s final details from a suite within the hotel.
In the 1920s, a new company was incorporated. A group of investors, including Sir John Monash, purchased the property and began a major renovation. The Grand Ballroom’s unique high Victorian character, considered unfashionable at the time, was hidden, and would remain so for the next sixty years; leadlight windows at each end were replaced with clear glass, the ceiling domes that illuminated the room with natural light were concealed, and the richly patterned Victorian colour scheme was replaced with light pastels.